The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings acknowledged to the FBI his role in the attacks but did so before he was advised of his constitutional right to keep quiet and seek a lawyer, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Once Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was read his rights on Monday, he immediately stopped talking, according to four officials of both political parties who were briefed on the interrogation but insisted on anonymity because the briefing was private.
After roughly 16 hours of questioning, investigators were surprised when a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the hospital room and read Tsarnaev his rights, the four officials and one law enforcement official said. Investigators had planned to keep questioning him.
It is unclear whether any of this will matter in court since the FBI says Tsarnaev confessed to a witness and U.S. officials said Wednesday that physical evidence, including a 9 mm handgun and pieces of a remote-control device commonly used in toys, was recovered from the scene.
But the debate over whether suspected terrorists should be read their Miranda rights has become a major sticking point in the debate over how best to fight terrorism. Many Republicans, in particular, believe Miranda warnings are designed to build court cases, and only hinder intelligence gathering.
Conservatives often bemoan how hard it is to convict criminals and how terrible it is that some people get released or acquitted because of a “technicality” such as a conviction being overturned because it was based on illegally seized evidence. They complain that the deck is stacked against law-abiding citizens and the bad guys are all using the system to their advantage.
Yeah, it’s terrible, isn’t it? Sure, it would be a lot easier, a lot more efficient, and save everyone a lot of time and money if we could just grab the bad guys and throw them in jail without having to go to the trouble to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they’re guilty. C’mon, we know they did it; why go through all this hugga-mugga just to live up to some Fourth or Fifth Amendment when we know we’ve got’em dead to rights? (It’s ironic that some people are absolutists about certain amendments, such as the Second, but when it comes to others like the Fourth, Fifth, or Fourteenth; enh, not so much.)
But that’s how it’s supposed to be. The Constitution and the justice system are designed to make it hard to convict someone of a crime. This inconvenient and cumbersome system is what separates us from the worst instincts of human nature; to mistrust the motives of everyone else and presume the worst about others. The most noble and uplifting thing about our Constitution and our justice system is that it actually codifies the belief in the better nature of humanity: that we are good and law-abiding people and that criminal behavior and ill will is not our true nature. No government or set of laws ever did that before, and its what makes us the comparatively free and aspirational society that we are.
Yes, there are bad people among us, and yes, we may find inconvenient and annoying to put up with someone else’s emphatic exercise of their rights, but if you consider the alternative, it’s worth it.